Heading into the opening round of the 2016 CAMS Australian GT Championship, Melbourne’s M-Motorsport were full of anticipation for what would be their fourth consecutive start on the challenging street circuit, but whilst hopeful of a strong result, few in the team honestly felt they would be holding the #1 trophy at the conclusion of the final race on Sunday morning..
“To be honest, I thought we would get there at some point this year, but perhaps not at the first round, and not with a brand new car,” Justin McMillan’s new driving partner Glen Wood admitted with surprise.
Just four weeks prior the team were lamenting the loss of their outgoing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3 after it was involved in a big accident during final practice for the Bathurst 12-Hour, the car undergoing a chassis change ahead of the Clipsal round where it would be campaigned by John Magro and fellow Queenslander Hayden Cooper.
At the same time the team’s new state-of-the-art Reiter Engineering built Gallardo R-EX (Extenso) arrived with enough time to add a new Interlloy/Wilson Storage livery, conduct a systems check at Winton Motor Raceway, and load the car for the trip across to Adelaide.
“From the get-go we had a lot to learn,” team-owner Justin McMillan admitted. “The car was new, it was different to the FL2 we campaigned last year and we had just one solitary 20-minute practice session to dial ourselves in ahead of qualifying.”
Taking a cautious approach to the two 20-minute qualifying sessions, the pair completed the two sessions to claim a 13th placed start for the opening race..
“That wasn’t ideal, but we agreed pre-race that our strategy would be to stay out of trouble and focus on points,” McMillan explained.
McMillan started the gorgeous black and orange Interlloy/Wilson Security Lamborghini and made a strong start to move up two positions, keeping ahead of former co-driver Steven Richards in the new BMW for the opening lap and a half before conceding the position to ensure he followed the pre-race plan.
“There was no point in getting involved in scraps early in the weekend, so I followed the plan and gave the car to Glen as soon as the compulsory-pit-stop [CPS] window opened.”
From there Wood charged, moving the car from 19th to fifth at the flag, in the process circulating faster than many of his rivals, only a mighty tussle at the front of the field across the final laps slowing his forward progress from a result which may have seen them emerge on the podium.
“That’s a great result from where we were in qualifying, and a lot of it is credit to the crew,” Wood admitted. “The car is just a jet in a straight line, but we’re struggling a little under brakes, so we can catch people with ease, but they can hold us out under brakes which is frustrating. After that last Safety Car I was in the perfect position to move further forward, but the front group started to battle between themselves and that meant the moves would be risky, so I opted to stick with the plan and go for the points.”
A wise decision, and a decision which paid off handsomely in race two, with Wood moving through to fourth before the CPS, McMillan rejoining in third before a last lap burst by race one winner Roger Lago in the second of the R-EX Gallardo’s dropped him to fourth at the flag, but that was soon to change.
“Justin drove the wheels off the car in the closing stages to keep some of the top drivers in the country behind him,” Wood explained. “We were fourth across the line, but post race they penalised the #1 car which finished second, so we’ve been moved onto the podium which is a brilliant result this early in the season..”
But more was still to come..
A strong opening stint in the final race saw McMillan hold on to a top six position early, circulating faster than he’d ever been around the Adelaide Parklands Circuit in the past.
By virtue of their lengthy CPS time-penalty for a third placed finish in race two, the #48 M-Motorsport Lamborghini was stationary in pit lane for 80-seconds, one of the longest stops in the field, Wood rejoining in 18th position ahead of an epic charge through the field over the following laps.
Within five laps he was back to position four but a long way back on the leaders. He made short work of the deficit to close on the battle between Tony Walls in the McLaren and the #222 Mercedes AMG of Scott Taylor for second, the two proving difficult to get around, Wood in the end making a big lunge down the inside of the Mercedes at turn four to set off in pursuit of Walls.
With a lap to go the battle between the young Victorian and Walls in the McLaren became the battle for the lead after race leader Lago made an error under brakes at turn four and shot down the escape road, damaging his car as he flick-turned it around the right way.
Again the M-Motorsport team were in a position to attack for the lead, but with valuable championship points on the line, Wood elected to hold station, crossing the line buried under the rear wing of the McLaren. Post race his decision was rewarded with the news that the team had claimed overall victory for the round, and the championship points lead heading to the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne in two weeks time.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told me, it’s a fantastic result,” Wood admitted afterwards. “Justin drove brilliantly and the crew were fantastic, everyone just gelled as a team. In the end we were amongst the fastest cars in a straight line, I think overall we claimed one of the top four or five lap times for the weekend, and we were smart in what battles we fought and which ones we avoided - that was part of the key. Ultimately three results in the top five suggests we were also fast and consistent, and as a result, we’re leading the championship!”
“I’m rapt,” McMillan added. “It’s like a dream come true. Glen drove brilliantly and we followed exactly the plan we set at the start of the weekend - focus on improving the car, and on staying out of trouble.”
“We learnt a lot about the new car, but what gives me great hope is the speed it carries in a straight line and through high speed corners, which is what the next few rounds are all about, so it’s up to us now to keep the momentum going and hopefully we’ll be there at the end of the season. I really think it’s the year of the Lamborghini,” Wood said.
With hardly a scratch on the Interlloy/Wilson Storage Lamborghini, the team’s focus turns to ‘home’ and the forthcoming Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, just ten minutes drive from the team’s Melbourne base for the second round of the championship - four scheduled 25-minute races across all four days of the event.
Keep up to date with the M-Motorsport/Interlloy race team by visiting; www.facebook.com/MMotorsportGT3
2016 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Clipal 500, Adelaide, South Australia (3-6 March)
Qualifying - Combined (40-minutes) - 3 March
1. Christopher Mies (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 1:20.2039
2. Craig Baird (Mercedes AMG GT3) - 1:20.6530
3. Nathan Antunes (McLaren 650S GT3) - 1:20.8621
4. Nathan Morcom (McLaren 650S GT3) - 1:21.0813
5. Marcus Marshall (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 1:21.3064
13. McMillan/Wood (Interlloy/Wilson Storage Lamborghini R-EX GT3) - 1:22.6065
Race#1 (40-mins) - 4 March
1. Roger Lago (Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3) - 24-laps
2. Nathan Morcom (McLaren 650S GT3)
3. Klark Quinn/Tony Quinn (McLaren 650S GT3)
4. Mark Griffith (Mercedes AMG GT3)
5. McMillan/Wood (Interlloy/Wilson Storage Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3)
Race#2 (40-mins) - 5 March
1. Marshall/Koundouris (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 21-laps
2. Roger Lago (Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3)
3. Wood/McMillan (Interlloy/Wilson Storage Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3)
4. Klark Quinn/Tony Quinn (McLaren 650S GT3)
5. Greg Taylor (Audi R8 LMS GT3)
Race#3 (40-mins) - 6 March
1. Tony Walls (McLaren 650S GT3)
2. McMillan/Wood (Interlloy/Wilson Storage Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3)
3. Matt Solomon (Mercedes AMG GT3)
4. Canto/Taplin (Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3)
5. Martin/Tebb (Porsche 997 GT3-R)
2016 Australian GT Championship (points after one round of six)
1. Justin McMillan/Glen Wood (136-points), 2. Roger Lago (132), 3. Tony Walls (110), 4. Klark Quinn/Tony Quinn (104), 5. James Koundouris/Marcus Marshall (99), 6. Nathan Morcom (91), 7. Matt Solomon (69), 8. Mark Griffith (64), 9. Andrew Taplin/Dean Canto (58), 10. Scott Taylor/Craig Baird (58)